One man’s journey from retirement to helping his local Head Start program become federally compliant.
At 62 years young, Jim Cameron carries a lot of his experience behind his youthful smile and friendly personality. After retiring from the paper industry in 2000, Cameron decided to “relax” by working part time for Muskogee County Transit in northeast Oklahoma. During that time, a new federal regulation pertaining to Head Start soon not only led to another relapse into retirement, but eventually a new career.
“When the new (45 CFR) 1310 regs came out, Muskogee Head Start approached county transit to contract their transportation,” said Cameron during a laid-back interview after a particularly busy day at last year’s STN EXPO. “It served the purpose, but we didn’t have the personal touch that needed to go with it, from the driver to the monitors, to the children and the families.”
After the first year, Cameron told the county he wouldn’t do it again on contract, so he re-entered retirement. Then, just as another school year was about to start, he came across a help wanted ad in the local paper for a Head Start transportation manager.
“I told them I would do it, but that I was only going to stay there for a year, and I’m still there,” laughed Cameron.
From there, he has transformed three old school buses and a fleet of 15-passenger vans (“I made it clear in the contract with the county that we were hands-off on the vans.”) to five 30-passenger, one 22-passenger, and two 19-passenger school buses, a feat he modestly attributed to the program’s “outstanding grantee,” Green County Behavioral Health Services. He is also proud of the fact that the approximately 180 students his department drives everyday do not ride on anything that isn’t compliant with federal regulations.
“We look at it as a big accomplishment. The kids are just as safe as they can be. The school bus is a tank, it’s a steel cage, you could roll it with a bulldozer,” remarked Cameron.
He was also quick to point out some flaws to the possibility of Head Start programs using shuttle buses to transport students, an option that is currently being studied by the Federal Transit Administration.
“We had a transit bus where the driver had a seizure and he sideswiped a utility pole. It stripped the whole side of it off — it was made of 2x2s, cardboard and insulation. Don’t put my children in one of those. You couldn’t retrofit it, that’s for sure.”
The probability of mandatory seat belts in small school buses, which are not an option but a requirement for Cameron, was also discussed.
“I think seat belts on buses are where seat belts in our automobiles were 25 years ago. I think in time we’re going to have the same resistance that we had on cars, but if you stop and think about it, the people they predict the resistance from — the teenagers, some parents, the staff, the drivers, the monitors — when these little kids, parents and teachers get in their cars, they use their seat belts. With the right training and the right legislation it will happen. Should a parent decide they don’t want their child wearing that seat belt, they have to understand that our insurance might not cover them and they will have to go ahead and transport their child themselves.”
While in his new role as transportation manager, Cameron came across an ad for the STN EXPO in 2002 and has attended every year since.
“The information I’ve gotten is invaluable,” said Cameron of the workshops he’s attend during the past six conferences. “I was really impressed by (Deming, N.M., transportation director) Ray Trejo’s ‘Classroom on Wheels’ workshop. You can gain an extra hour a day of lessons. There’s no dollar value we can put on what we’re taking back every summer.”
Cameron also had the chance to sit down with Sonayia Shepherd for a one-on-one evaluation of his program’s security plan, a $5,000 value that he will likely be including in his budget as in kind.
“She showed me things that were needed and informed me that grant funding is out there for security type improvements, like cameras, GPS and security programs in your school.”
With six years already under his belt, Cameron isn’t even considering another retirement.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be working with Head Start, a long time I imagine,” he said. “I’m 62, I’m still young. I have a lot of years left. It’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”